Photo quality from the SX50 HS is generally the same as it was with the SX40 HS, which isn't a bad thing. Of course, a lot has to do with expectations. This is still a small-sensor camera, so you will not get digital SLR-quality photos and noise and artifacts will probably stop you from using them at 100 percent size even at ISO 80 (macro photos are an exception).
Images do get softer and noisier above ISO 200 -- typical for point-and-shoots -- but ISO 400 and 800 are still usable. Also, since Canon included raw image capture on this model, you can process the images yourself if you want and rescue some detail if you don't mind a little extra noise. Another bonus: There are 1/3 increments for ISO sensitivities, as in ISO 250, ISO 320, ISO 400, and so on, giving you a bit more control over things.
Colors desaturate some at ISO 1600 and 3200, subjects look very soft, and detail is greatly diminished; ISO 6400 is sort of pointless.Keep in mind, too, that if you're shooting indoors with lens extended, you'll need the higher ISOs to keep shutter speeds fast enough to prevent blur. Also, the auto white balance is warm indoors, which doesn't help color when combined with higher ISOs; use the presets or use the custom option when possible.
Unlike in past versions of this camera, Canon includes the capability to capture raw and raw plus JPEG. If you don't mind processing the images yourself, you can get slightly improved detail, especially at higher ISOs, and fine-tune noise reduction to your liking.
The top photo here is a JPEG straight from the camera of our scene shot at ISO 800. The bottom is the raw version with minimal noise reduction. Though there is more graininess, you do get better fine detail. Viewed larger you can make out more of the differences.
Canon added an HDR mode to the SX50 HS to help balance out high-contrast shots. The camera takes three shots at different exposures and combines them into one shot to bring out details that would otherwise be lost in shadows or highlights. It doesn't do this particularly quickly, though, so the camera and the subject have to remain still for good results.
In the shots above, the one on the far left was taken in Program Auto and the middle shot was taken with in HDR. If you view it larger you can see that there's some ghosting with the people walking.
The photo on the far right is the same as the one on the left, but processed using Canon's i-Contrast editing option available in playback. It doesn't improve highlight details, but brings up the detail lost in shadows.
The DR Correction option on the SX50 HS tones down highlights. The top photo is with it off, the bottom is with it on and set to tone down highlights by about 400 percent. The lowest available is ISO 320, but it works and can definitely rescue some detail that would otherwise be blown out.
This slide and those that follow were all taken at 1,200mm, so you can get an idea of the photo quality with the lens fully extended. They were all taken handheld, too (the image stabilization is excellent). A link is provided to download and view the full-size image for each slide. They are large files, so it may take a few seconds for them to fully load.